UPRISING: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom
BY JAKE PAGE
(Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2013)
Jake Page, formerly of Smithsonian magazine and an author of works on Native American spirituality and art, has executed an illuminating shift of perspective in his retelling of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. His accomplishment lies not in the recitation of facts: the construction and destruction of churches, the conversion to Christianity and apostasy of Native peoples, or the frequent murders and reprisals that characterized even the best of relations between the two peoples. Rather it is his adroit handling of the stuff that matters—the beliefs, views, and lifeways—that helps us understand not just what happened but, ever and always more important, why.
In 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate crossed the Río Grande and entered what is now New Mexico, he had two things uppermost in his mind—God and Mammon. He was operating under the aegis of the king of Spain, who, influenced by the Franciscan Lobby at Court, wanted the new vast reservoir of souls to be converted by the Franciscan friars. And, like most other men of his ilk, Oñate sought adventure and the immense wealth of a world filled with cities of gold. It was an agenda that was to define the next two hundred years.
Scholars are used to evoking psychological and emotional rationales for actions among their subjects, and that’s a core characteristic of Page’s work. There are many examples throughout this book where contemporary frames of reference are used to clarify the motivations of a half-millennium ago. For example, Page reminds us of the vast distance between the New Spain and the Old, not only in sea miles, but in the realities of land and weather, people and ideas. Bridging that divide was difficult. The importance of marketing, of selling oneself and one’s accomplishments, was at the heart of the fraught relationships between those who wished to set policy from gilded European thrones, and those whose task it was to implement that policy.
But it is when the story shifts from the Spanish to the Native perspectives that the real value of the book becomes apparent. Page grapples with, and works hard to detail, the world as seen through the eyes of those who had lived for a few centuries in the great swath of land stretching north from Socorro to Taos, and west from Pecos to the Hopi mesas.
His task is complicated by a necessary reliance on oral tradition, and a long-standing reticence among Native peoples to share much with outsiders. Nonetheless, he does as compelling a job describing their interior life as he does the Spaniards’, even if it required more imagination.
Page takes care to emphasize the holistic nature of Pueblo culture, the seamless meshing of belief and life. The Spanish tried to enforce change without taking this into account, and the result—precipitated not only by poor governance but general cluelessness—was the revolution that forced the Spaniards from their newest and most hopeful of footholds. Page writes of this as the first great American war for religious freedom. The Spaniards returned a few years later to a world mostly disinterested in conflict, and willing again to entertain a chastised colonizer.
Page didn’t write this book for scholars. He seeks a wider popular audience, and the result is a fine work of interpretation and storytelling. It offers a nuanced and compelling perspective on a time and series of events that influenced—and continues to influence—the Southwestern experience.
Peter BG Shoemaker is a frequent contributor to New Mexico Magazine.
THE TURQUOISE TRAIL
BY LAURIE EVANS FRANTZ
(Arcadia Publishing, 2013)
If “On the Turquoise Trail” piqued your interest, enjoy this selection of vintage photographs of Cerrillos, Madrid, and other spots on Highway 14. From cheery parade shots to a hotel being consumed by flames to a portrait of Golden’s first school and its students, the black-and-white images are accompanied by detailed, anecdote-rich descriptions.
LAND OF ENCHANTMENT WILDFLOWERS: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY WILLA F. FINLEY AND LASHARA J. NIELAND
(Texas Tech University Press, 2013)
New Mexico enjoys a bounty of regional plant species numbering more than 4,000. Agricultural researcher Willa F. Finley and former biology teacher LaShara Nieland, whose popular Lone Star Flowers was released in 2009, focus on 200 of them in this colorful 352-page field guide. The first of its kind to focus solely on New Mexico wildflowers since William C. Martin’s and Charles R. Hutchins’ seasonal-flower book series from the mid- to late 1980s, this daypack-sized volume is perfect for hikers and flower hounds who want to know the names and properties of the surrounding blooms. The authors also share the flowers’ traditional and contemporary medicinal, culinary, and ceremonial uses.
THE WIVES OF LOS ALAMOS: A NOVEL BY TARASHEA NESBIT
The harried, loyal, overlooked, in-the-dark wives of Los Alamos’s 1940s scientists get an overdue valentine in the form of this very truthful-sounding work of fiction. Part oral history, part lucid prose poem, Nesbit presents the experience of the women who moved to pre–Atomic City from the perspective of a communal “we,” and sustains it seamlessly throughout the 230-page book. She combed through archives, listened to oral histories, and worked with the Los Alamos Historical Society, gathering shreds and gems of insight, gossip, maternal consternation, and uneasy collusion. Their husbands’ contributions changed the world, and New Mexico changed them: “By the end of our time at Los Alamos we had two or ten black-on-black pieces of pottery and we wanted more. We wore weighty belts of silver. We bought high-topped deerskin moccasins. We spread Navajo rugs on our floor and draped Chimayó blankets over the couch.” Reading the book feels like a mixture of eavesdropping and hearing a confession. Nesbit’s collage of remembrances revives a world that flared briefly, and then dissolved.